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“If you love your readers, and wish to be read, get anecdotes," is the sagacious advice to authors, in a contemporary critical journal ;* and a kindred sense of the interest as well as the value of this species of reading has encouraged the production of the present volumes. Their immediate object is to collect and arrange, in the most entertaining as well as serviceable form, the salient points in the Lives of some of the leading Wits and Humorists who had adorned our literature. The advantages of such a plan have been thus enforced by one of the greatest masters, in saying that, “ Abstracts, abridgments, summaries, &c., have the same use with burning-glasses,—to collect the diffused rays of wit and learning in authors, and make them point with warmth and quickness upon the reader's imagination.”
The economy of the plan need not be insisted upon; if we are to trust the adage that “the wit of one is the wisdom of many." .
Each of the Anecdote Lives is divided into two sections : first, the leading points are arranged in chronological and biographical sequence; and next, the Characteristics, Retrospective Opinions, and Personal Traits, which include such matters as do not belong to any specified period, and cannot be so classed as to follow the example of time.
Hitherto, Anecdotes have been for the most part narrated as detached incidents in the lives of their subjects ; but in these volumes an attempt is made to connect such incidents
* Quarterly Review : Art. “Table-Talk."
by a string-course, which shall furnish the reader with a view of the career of a person, without that predominance of didactic writing which forms so considerable a portion of biography.
In the Anecdotes themselves, incompressibility has been kept in view ; and any one who will take the trouble to examine the collections of Anecdotes, which enjoyed much popularity at the close of the last century, will, it is thought, acknowledge that compression had become very desirable in this class of books. Another argument in its favour is the multiplicity of anecdote books published in our day, which are too prodigal of time to be considered economical or profitable reading.
How far the Compiler of these volumes has realized the literary scheme of which he has here sketched the outline, must he left to the judgment of the reader, and to his indulgence; for, in the great number of names and dates, events, facts, and incidents which are assembled within these 800 pages, by eyes which do not possess microscopic power, may probably be detected errors of omission and commission.
However, the Reader is assured that in each case the best sources have been consulted for these Lives; the authorities for statements given as far as practicable; and the aid as extensively acknowledged. To “ reject what is no longer essential” is the Compiler's canon of economy; to give a local colour to the anecdote has been another rule; and he has added to some of the later Lives the results of his own circumstantial recollection, though not without diffidence as to the quantum valeat of these contributions in such brilliant company as the range of these volumes presents,-in its array of distinguished divines and essayists, wits, and humorists, and writers for the stage, whose sayings and doings are the staple of the work,